Tuesday, January 31, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 31

I have a man that I've worked with for many years who struggles with severe alcoholism. He is a binge drinker and when he gets drunk he usually gets belligerent and violent. This man does not attend my church, will not get into a 12 step program, and has basically rejected all my counsel. Every so often he gets intoxicated and decides to call my phone late at night and impersonate the devil. He is a really lousy devil impersonator, I always know it's him. I realize that this may sound funny to people reading this, but I don't find it amusing. He is under the power of the devil and it saddens me to hear him speak like this.

It also makes me angry. In fact I thought I might run into this guy yesterday and I was ready to tell him off. I caught myself preparing my speech and the first couple editions featured some unkind words...heck they were cuss words! I had reasons all lined up. He is a big scary dude who's trying to intimidate me! He's breaking the law by making harassing phone calls! He is disrespecting the one guy who has consistently been there for him! He is, he is, he is... going to get a piece of my mind! But then I remembered Jesus. He must increase, I must decrease.

How do I let Christ into this situation? Does following Christ mean giving up on discernment? No. Should I throw caution to the wind? No. Are we ever allowed to set boundaries with people? Yep. Is there ever a point when we can cut people off? Certainly. But how do we decide what to do and when to do it? Follow the example of Jesus. Long-suffering. Gracious. Loving. Compassionate. Forgiving. Firm. Truthful. Straight shooting. Prayerful. Aware of the spiritual activity going behind the scenes.

It is clear to me upon further reflection that the devil was using this man to attack me, while abusing him. I was ticked off but he is enslaved. What would Jesus do? What does he want you to do with the difficult people in your life? Many questions, lost of answer...just remember He must increase.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 39-40


Monday, January 30, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 30

"He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less." (John 3:30) John the Baptist uttered these words while he was in prison. They've served as a rallying cry for disciples to push Jesus to the place of importance in our lives while striving to make it "not about me." But to what extent do we take this? Should we have no aspirations? Should we forfeit all our rights? Should we give up all of our interests? Should we live like monks who leave the world that Jesus came to save and justify it in his name?

I suspect, as with most things, that this issue calls for balance. I heard someone way once, "Don't be so heavenly minded that you're no earthly good." There are people who try to honor Jesus to such an extent that they almost don't know how to function in the world. And, the result is that they end up drawing attention to themselves rather than Jesus!

Having said that, the flip side is probably more often the case. Many who claim the name Christ bear few signs of his presence in their life. Their focus is on themselves, and Jesus is someone they call in a crunch. As we keep thinking through the issues of Jesus increasing in us, we should ask ourselves where we fall on that spectrum? Are we head in the clouds about Jesus, or are we so worldly people don't know we claim him as Lord?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 36-38


Sunday, January 29, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 29

Hope you had a chance yesterday to consider what some idols might be. You may not have any statues or false god bling lying around your house which is good. You probably don't attend pagan festivals or engage in pagan revelry which is really good! But idols are can be anything. In fact, an idol can be a notion, a pursuit, or anything at all. Idols are anything that you worship; something that you have devoted yourself to, something you pursue, something that is the driving force in your life. Idols could include exercise, retirement plans, family, hobbies, television, education, food, sex or even leisure. They might be different than or ancient counterparts, but idols are everywhere.

Following the golden calf fiasco God said this:
"Be very careful never to make treaties with the people in the land where you are going. If you do, you soon will be following their evil ways. Instead, you must break down their pagan altars, smash the sacred pillars they worship, and cut down their carved images. You must worship no other gods, but only the LORD, for he is a God who is passionate about his relationship with you. "Do not make treaties of any kind with the people living in the land. They are spiritual prostitutes, committing adultery against me by sacrificing to their gods. If you make peace with them, they will invite you to go with them to worship their gods, and you are likely to do it. And you will accept their daughters, who worship other gods, as wives for your sons. Then they will cause your sons to commit adultery against me by worshiping other gods." (Exodus 34:12-16)

What things, values, influences, people, activities do you engage in that could become idolatrous if not kept in check? Have you considered that some of these things we engage in might be making a "treaty" with godless things? Not saying they are. Just wondering if there are any parallels.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 33-35


Saturday, January 28, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 28

This morning I was reading the account of the Israelites and their famous golden calf. It amazes me to think that people could so quickly turn on their God. He had just performed ten miracles of a cataclysmic magnitude. He set the free from a powerful country where they'd been enslaved. He crushed a foreign army when they tried to intervene. He fed them miraculously with food literally falling from the sky. He led them with a physical manifestation of himself; cloud by day and fire by night. He spoke to them audibly on Mount Sinai which was too much for them to bear. And when Moses is gone for a few days, they asked Aaron (the high priest of God) to make them an idol....and he did!

When Moses got down off the mountain he was ticked! He broke the ten commandments which was probably a mistake. He melted down their golden calf to dust, ground it up, put it in water and made them drink it! He had them turn that idol into poo! (that's my take anyways) Moses and the Levites strapped on swords and killed over 3000 people that day to get a message across; God is not to be trifled with. God does not co-exist with idols. God will not share worship with other so called gods.

It's comfortable for us to read these stories because we're convinced that we are idol free. No statues in my house. No idols on the mantle. No Buddha in the back yard. See, I'm idol free! Want to reconsider? Take some time to think about what your idols might be....more on this tomorrow.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 30-32


Friday, January 27, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 27

Yesterday I was able to watch 30 minutes of the funeral for legendary Penn State Football coach Joe Paterno. I was on the treadmill at the gym trying to hold it together while former players eulogized this well loved coach. I didn't catch everything that was said because I was having to read it on the tele-prompter...but it was emotional. People were crying, people were clapping, people were telling stories about this hero from the sporting world. He brought in foreign players, he helped ease racial tension, he gave millions to the school for building projects, he helped pay adoption fees, he....it went on well past my cardiovascular resolve.

The entire service lasted a long time, had thousands of alumni and supporters, and was nationally televised. I kept hearing Joe Paterno said this, Joe Paterno said that, but I never heard Jesus. I may have given up too soon, but I never heard anyone say anything about Jesus. I heard one faint reference to "Catholic" but that was it. I prayed while I was watching for someone to give credit to Jesus. I prayed for someone to mention the name of Jesus. But all I heard was Joe Paterno.

Let me offer this disclaimer before I make my point. I didn't watch the whole ceremony, I'm not sure what was said at the private family funeral, and I am not criticizing Joe Paterno or his family. But that whole scene set me to thinking about a couple of things. What do I want people to remember about my life when I die? What do I want them to talk about as they sum up my life? If I could influence a sea of people in this world, what legacy would I leave through them? What name do I want spoken the most at my memorial service? Jesus. Just Jesus. He....must increase.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 28-29


Thursday, January 26, 2012

He Must Increase - Day 26

This morning I was reading about the construction of the tabernacle, the ark of the covenant, and the altar of the Lord. In the end of chapter 27 the people are instructed to supply the Tabernacle with oil so that the lamp stands inside never run out. They were to keep the fire burning and to never let them burn out. There has been much speculation about what this light means. I like to think of it as a neon sign announcing "OPEN". The tabernacle was the place where people made contact with God, and the light was always on. Kinda of like Tom Bodett says in the Motel 6 commercials says, "We'll leave the light on for you!"

What about people in the New Testament era who are no longer required to go to a certain place to meet God? The connection maybe a stretch but I'd like us to consider the words of Jesus. In Matthew 5:14-15 “You are the light of the world—like a city on a hilltop that cannot be hidden. No one lights a lamp and then puts it under a basket. Instead, a lamp is placed on a stand, where it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your good deeds shine out for all to see, so that everyone will praise your heavenly Father."

What if the light went out in the Tabernacle? That was the one place on the planet where people could go to encounter the living God. Righteous Jews traveled for days to come there and worship. What if the lights were out? What if those priests had failed to do their jobs and the lights of the Tabernacle went out? Maybe a better question is, "what happens if our light goes out?" There are no holy places any longer. There is no holy location where the faithful can travel to worship God. We are now the temple of God, and thus Jesus calls us the "light of the world." But what happens if the light goes out? Jesus doesn't get the increase. The Father doesn't receive praise. People miss out on a chance to worship...because the priests of the new temple (us) had let the light run out. Let your lights shine Christians! Let no one come to our temple and find the lights out...shine on!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 25-27


Wednesday, January 25, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 25

I've had a couple trying circumstances these past few weeks involving other people. Nothing earth shattering or outside o f what anyone else experiences. I'm not feeling like a victim, and I'm not pretending to have it all sorted out. For whoever reads this, know that I'm not talking about you! Or....am I?

When we deal with challenging people issues we get immediately drawn into predictable, and even sinful, attitudes. Here are some of the thoughts that roll through my mind from time to time:
-How dare they?
-Who do they think they are?
-I would never do that!
-They don't know what they're talking about.
-I've done nothing wrong, why are they wronging me?
-They are acting like such an idiot!

Now if you never think these kinds of things, congratulations. You are seated at the right hand of Jesus and have no need to read on. But for the rest of us mere mortals, keep going. The problem with this kind of thinking is that it is defensive, selfish, critical, and self-righteous. It takes the focus off of God, off of the other person, and puts it squarely on me...which is where the focus should not be. He must increase, I must decrease. He must become greater and great in my life, and I need to keep myself out of the way. So when the ugly thoughts come your way, counteract them with something that helps you deal with the situation in way that reflects Christ.

-How dare they? Instead...I wonder what's going on in their life to make they act this way?
-Who do they think they are? Instead...who do I think I am? I don't have a perfect track record.
-I would never do that! Uh...yes I would, yes I have, and I might do it again before it's all over.
-They don't know what they're talking about. Do I? Maybe if I listen instead of building up an argument, I might learn something about myself, them, or the issue we're discussing.
-I've done nothing wrong, why are they wronging me? I've done plenty wrong, I've wronged others, I've wronged God, I'm not that innocent (never thought I'd quote Brittney!)
-They are acting like such an idiot! I've had my moments!

These kinds of thing are so powerful for transforming negative situations into something positive. These humble attitudes allow us to hear what is actually being said. It keeps us from being so defensive. It lessens the likelihood of us saying or doing something we'll regret. And it allows an opportunity for Christ to shine through us. Philippians 2:3-5 says, "Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus..." That's the goal...take on the attitude of Jesus.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 22-24


Tuesday, January 24, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 24

I'm not sure I've ever heard a person of faith say that they DID NOT want to hear God speak. Yet the people of Israel did precisely that at the base of Mt. Sinai. God had gathered them around to give them the law and it was an awesome sight. The mountain where Moses had previously met the Lord in a burning bush, was now the place where the covenant law was revealed. This time the whole mountain was burning and billowing with smoke. There was an earthquake, thunder, lightning AND....if all that wasn't enough they heard the voice of God. I'm not sure what God's audible voice sounded like, but it freaked them out. They essentially said "we don't want God to talk to us anymore Moses! Let him talk to you and you can tell us what he said!"

Then Moses said something really interesting, something I've never caught before; "From now on, let your fear of him keep you from sinning!" (Ex 20:20) In their fearful state they decided they didn't want to hear from God anymore. But Moses said (in essence) "if you're so scared in God's presence then maybe you should stop sinning. Maybe you should fear what this Awesome God will do to you if you keep disobeying the laws that he has given you!"

Maybe the fear of God has been replaced by great testimonies of his grace. Maybe the fear of the Lord is been dismissed as an ancient scare tactic to keep uneducated peasants in line. Maybe the fear of God has been replaced by a notion of God which portrays him as a permissive parent who is blissfully unaware of what his kids are doing. But don't be fooled. Our God is love, he is mercy, and he all about forgiveness. But he is also someone not to be trifled with. His commands are not suggestions. His will is not passive. His ideas are never wrong. And he still knows how to bring the thunder! So, where does the "fear of the Lord" fit into your thinking about God? How should this affect your relationships with him? What doesn't it mean? How might people wrongly apply this to their life?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 19-21


Monday, January 23, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 23

"What is it?" That's the name that the Israelites gave to the mysterious heavenly food which descended on them each night during their 40 year wilderness tour. They were given a couple of specific rules about the gathering of the manna. First, only take as much as you need (about two quarts per person) and second, don't save any for the next day. Of course, people tried to save it anyways and the leftovers turned bad and were filled with maggots. But why did God forbid the people from taking more than they needed? The only explanation given for this somewhat bizarre ritual was this; "Then you will know that I am the LORD your God.'" (Ex 16:12)

Every morning the Israelites got up needing God to provide for them. If manna didn't come, they didn't eat. So when the first batch came it was only natural for them to want to gather more than the daily allotment. By storing up more what were they saying about themselves? We have to provide for ourselves. More importantly what were they saying about God? We don't trust you. In his infinite wisdom and understanding of how we humans think...God set up a system which required his people to trust him. They had to trust God for their survival every day. They had to depend on God to show up every single day. If only we were so lucky.

The Israelites were placed in a situation where the only option was to trust him. Unfortunately, ironically, sadly it is in the moments of total helplessness that we usually learn to depend on him. Maybe we should seek to depend on God when things aren't desperate. Or perhaps we should see desperate times as an opportunity to learn to trust. The old saying goes, "Pray like it depends on God and work like it depends on you." That mentality sounds good but leads us to a view that portrays God like a fire extinguisher; something to call on in an emergency. God wants us to place him first. To see him as our source, our security, our provider, and the person we can always count on. Everything else is ultimately...just moldy bread.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 16-18


Sunday, January 22, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 22

It's amazing how quickly we can forget who Christ is and what he has done for us. There are those moments when we are filled with worship and those times when our hearts are all but drained of faith. "When the people of Israel saw the mighty power that the lord had unleashed against the Egyptians, they were filled with awe before him. They put their faith in the Lord..." (Ex 14:31) The Lord had just commanded the sea to divided allowing the people to escape and then used that water to crush the Egyptians pursuers. The people were high on the Lord; exited and singing praises. Miriam the prophetess even led the women in the Israelite version of the macarena!

Amazingly, in the next chapter, the people are complaining because their is seemingly no water to drink. (Ex 15: 24) Isn't the God who can command the sea big enough to handle drinking water? Isn't the God who orchestrated the ten plagues able to locate some disease free water? Of course the answer is yes. We think, "Those silly Israelites!" Why didn't they trust God to deliver? A better question is why don't we?

Jesus saved our soul, but some of us are overridden with fears about his ability to save those we love. Isn't He big enough? We have a promise of a life beyond this life, free from pain and disease, but doubt God's intentions when we face those things here on earth. We know that Jesus himself suffered while he was here on earth. He faced the temptations and trials of a fallen world and yet he never participated in the sins that caused them. But when we suffer we wonder, we doubt, we complain, we take matters into our hands. We are just like the Israelites.

I'd like to think that the things God has done in the past are enough to give me hope for the future but I must incriminate myself. I struggle like everyone else. Sometimes in chapter 14 of my life I'm rejoicing and then complaining in chapter 15. But I don't want to be that person. I don't want to complaining and praise to flow from the same lips. If the Israelites had decided to say, "God will provide" instead complaining about their needs...I dare say the whole story would have sounded completely different. How different would our lives be if we decided to believe that the Lord has...and IS...working on our behalf?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 13-15


Saturday, January 21, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 21

One of the most painful things to endure is submission. No one likes to submit. In fact, the very word submission has negative connotations for just about everyone. The Christian life cannot be experienced fully without an understanding of submission. Christian citizens are told to submit to the government. Christian slaves are instructed to submit to their owners. Wives submit to their husbands. Children submit to their parents. Husbands submit to God. Christians submit to each other. And EVERYONE submits to God.

This morning I read more about Pharaoh's hardened hard. We read about how God "hardened Pharaoh's heart" and assume God was somehow controlling Pharaoh like a puppet on a string. If you aren't careful you can feel bad for Pharaoh and get the idea that God was picking on him. But hardening doesn't mean that Pharaoh was rendered incapable of listening to Moses. Hardening means that God gave Pharaoh over to the wickedness of his own heart. He let him experience the fullest consequences of his rebellious heart. He let him head the direction he wanted go and kicked him in the pants as he passed by!

When the Lord spoke to Pharaoh (through Moses) after the seventh plague he asked, "How long will you refuse to submit to me?"(Ex 10:3) Ten plagues was all it took to get his attention, what does it take to get yours? The destruction of his property didn't grab him. Loss of wealth didn't phase him. Hurting the people around him wasn't enough. Physical discomfort didn't persuade him. Ultimately it took the death of his firstborn son to get his attention. All because he refused to submit. You can picture his face screwed up and flushed with pride. His legacy was a foolish, faithless, prideful and stubborn heart that sped him right down the path to destruction.

So what areas of your life are refusing to submit in? What is your rebellion costing you? What about those around you? What if the cost for your rebellion gets more and more expensive? How long will you refuse to submit to the Lord? He is Lord, we are his people. He must increase in us, we must decrease.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 10-12


Friday, January 20, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 20

Ever wonder what God is up to? Typically this comes in the form of why God didn't do something we wanted. In this journey to put God first, to push his Son Jesus to the forefront of our lives, to listen to the voice of the Spirit....we still wonder! Why God? Why not God? How come God?

The reality for us is we don't know why God does what he does. Once in a while he lets us in the behind the scenes stuff, but mostly we just guess. People say thing like, "Well it must have happened for a reason." That may be true but most of us aren't content with that...we want to know what that reason was!

In Exodus 9:15-16 Moses is instructed to tell Pharaoh the following: "By now I could have lifted my hand and struck you and your people with a plague to wipe you off the face of the earth. But I have spared you for a purpose—to show you my power and to spread my fame throughout the earth." I found comfort in these words today. God revealed a couple of general things about himself in this specific instance:
1. Surely the people of Israel were wondering why God hadn't wiped out the Egyptians. He's sending amazing, devastating signs their way; why not just wipe them out. God says, "I spared you for a purpose." In others words, there are reasons why God does what he does. That's not specific, but it informs us that God isn't deciding our fate with the flip of a coin or roll of the dice.
2. He says he wants to display his power. There are times God does something because he wants people to understand who they are dealing with. He wants to do something that invokes faith, that inspires awe, that points people toward himself.
3. Lastly he wants his fame to spread throughout the earth. Now that sounds narcissistic to us but it's not with God. He is the only God. His fame is should spread throughout the earth. His fame must spread throughout the earth. And that's in no way for his benefit, but in every way for our benefit.

So here's the challenge. Instead of wondering why God didn't do what you wanted, hoped, expected....zoom out a bit. Ask him to reveal what he's up to. Try to discern how what is personally disappointing to you might be beneficial to someone else. And even if you can't understand, choose to place the your efforts and energies into glorifying Christ instead of highlighting your own concerns, doubts, and complaints. He must increase!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 7-9


Thursday, January 19, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 19

It's not about you. It's certainly not about me. But we make it about us. This morning I was reading about Moses being sent by God to speak to Pharaoh. You've probably read the story. Moses doesn't want to go. He doesn't want to speak up for the Lord. He starts making excuses about being clumsy with his words. (Some commentators think that he may have had a stutter). Eventually God agrees to send Moses some reinforcements in the form of his more eloquent brother Aaron.

The part that stuck out to me was Exodus 4:11-12. God said to Moses, "Who makes a person’s mouth? Who decides whether people speak or do not speak, hear or do not hear, see or do not see? Is it not I, the LORD? Now go! I will be with you as you speak, and I will instruct you in what to say.” It's apparently not about Moses either!

God doesn't need us to accomplish his purposes. There are no franchise players on his team. No personalities that he needs as his front man. He graciously allows us to participate in what he's doing...and what he's doing is about Him; not us. Did God know of Moses' speaking limitations? Most certainly. Did it deter him? Absolutely not. So why did it deter Moses? Why did he take his eyes off what God was trying to do (liberate an entire nation of people from slavery) and put the focus back on himself? Fear. Selfishness. Shame. Insecurities. Cowardice. All these things could be the culprit. But whatever the motivation, the result was a failure to place the focus on Him.

Are there any areas in your life which your taking the focus off of God and onto yourself? Probably. More importantly, how can you make what God wants about him, and not about you?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 4-6


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 18

This morning I read about the tumultuous beginning of Moses. His people were slaves in Egypt and viciously oppressed. At the time of his birth baby boys were being put to death because the Egyptians feared an uprising. Moses' parents didn't know what to do with him so they sent down the river in a basket. How did that seem like a good idea?

As I read this familiar story there was a little line that I'd never noticed before. Moses' mother "saw that he was special" (Ex 2:2) What on earth does that mean? He wasn't tall or gifted athletically. He wasn't a natural leader or good at math. He was a baby! They wiggle, and cry, and poop and demand to be fed! It seems to me that shes sensed some kind of grander purpose for her son...and she was right. Some of us sense that God has a purpose for our life that is more special than what we are currently experiencing. We look at people like Mary, Moses, Peter, and Priscilla and Aquila and think, "what if?" or "why not me?"

One of the problems with reading about heroes of the faith is that we tend to idealize the hero, without taking the larger story into consideration. God didn't choose them so that they could be a hero. God didn't choose them because they were talented, gifted, or special. He certainly didn't choose them so people would give them their attention. God chose them to because He is special, and had his own special plans. Being invited into his plan, on any level, makes us special. Being included on the Master's master plan is what makes us special. And just like baby Moses' mother thought he was special, Father God has known since before your birth that you are special. And he has plans that don't revolve around you, but they do include you. So be faithful in your part of His plan. Know that you are special because you're on his team. And God didn't notice you are special, He made you special. (Hope that his plan isn't to send you down the river!!!)

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Exodus 1-3


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 17

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote this short poem entitled "The Rainy Day"

The day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
Some days must be dark and dreary.

That poem was beautifully written and captures the heart of anyone who has ever suffered pain or loss. But what a downer! If not for the last familiar few line we'd wonder if there was any value to such a poem. Everyone has struggles. Everyone has dreary days. Dark days. Everyone has unrealized hopes and season when the wind is unrelenting. But the sunshine lies just beyond the clouds.

As human beings we all come to realize that troubles will come. As Christians we know that on the darkest of days, with the clouds looming ominously above, that the SON still shines! Gloomy days don't mean he's abandoned us; these things happen to everyone. Everyone. In the midst of the darkest gloom Job had a moment of clarity and wrote these words (Job 19:25-27):
“But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives,
and he will stand upon the earth at last.
And after my body has decayed,
yet in my body I will see God!
I will see him for myself.
Yes, I will see him with my own eyes.
I am overwhelmed at the thought!"

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 48-50

Monday, January 16, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 16

As we seek to exalt Christ, and put Christ about our own ambitions, we must strive to incorporate an element of thanks. 1 Thessalonians 5:18 says,"...give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus." (NIV) If Christ is to increase in our lives, we must drink from the well of thanks more often and more purposefully. But what a task! Give thanks in every circumstance?

Thanksgiving is not just the way of Christ; it's also the path of blessing. A thankful heart rejoices over what Christ has done for us instead of lamenting life's many disappointments. A thankful mind, grounded in Christ, sees what is right in every circumstance instead of always highlighting what is wrong. A thankful body rests easy at night from the knowledge of Christ's providence instead of wrestling with the sheets of anxiety. A thankful soul, finds satisfaction in Christ though everything around them may be chaos.

Some see thanksgiving as a some kind of mystical spiritual attribute but it's simpler than that. It's an attitude. It's a posture. It's a choice to see things in a certain light. Henry Ward Beecher once said, "Pride slays thanksgiving, but a humble mind is the soil out of which thanks naturally grow." Try it out today as see if it works. In each situation of circumstance you find yourself in today...ask this question: "What is there to be thankful for?"

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 46-47


Sunday, January 15, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 15

As I was preparing for church this morning I was reminded of declaration of praise in Philippians 2:6-11. This is what it says about Lord Jesus:

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross.

Therefore, God elevated him to the place of highest honor
and gave him the name above all other names,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.(NLT)

So who gets the glory? Who deserves the glory? Who is it that we exalt? Me? No. Him!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 44-45


Saturday, January 14, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 14

Who gets the credit for what we accomplish? Though I am not a Denver Broncos fan, I've marveled at their quarterback's consistence praise of Jesus. Whenever Tim Tebow is interviewed he says, "First of all, I just want to thank my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ." Win or lose, facing praise or criticism, this Christ follower points people to Jesus. He (Jesus) gets the credit. Isn't that the spirit behind, "He must increase..?"

In my Scripture reading this morning I looked at the story of Joseph in prison. When the Pharaoh called on him to interpret a dream he had a simple response. He didn't take credit, didn't say, "No problem, I can do that." He said, “It is beyond my power to do this,” Joseph replied. “But God can tell you what it means and set you at ease.” (Gen 41:16)

It's beyond my power...but God can_________. (Fill in the blank) What if we emulated that humble attitude. If some compliments you, what do you say? "Thank you, but I'm nothing without God." If someone praises your ability? "I give all the credit to Jesus." What if someone criticizes you? "I'm sorry, my struggles sure remind me how much I need Jesus every day." (I'm serious on that!) What if someone puts the spotlight on you? "I give all the credit to Jesus Christ."

There was a book written about singer/songwriter Rich Mullins shortly after his death. This biography was simply titled, "An Arrow Pointing to Heaven." That's the goal of the Christian life. Be an arrow pointing to people Jesus.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 41-43


Friday, January 13, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 13

For Christ to increase I must decrease. Think about all the things we say that reflect exactly the opposite. Self-esteem. Self-worth. Self-preservation. Self-respect.Self-talk. Self-evaluation. Take care of yourself. "Self" is the ultimate idolatry of godless people. You can't them blame them, they don't have any sense of any higher purpose than what they want, what they like, what make them happy. But what about us?

Could a Christian get caught up with the false god of self? Ummm....yes. In fact it happens all too often. My house, my stuff, my toys, my retirement plan. The way I look. The way I dress. The car I drive. The hobbies I can afford. The hobbies I can't afford! What I want. What I think. What I look like. What I need.

Look what the apostle Paul said in Philippians 2:14-18 and see if you could champion this same attitude in your life:

"Do everything readily and cheerfully—no bickering, no second-guessing allowed! Go out into the world uncorrupted, a breath of fresh air in this squalid and polluted society. Provide people with a glimpse of good living and of the living God. Carry the light-giving Message into the night so I'll have good cause to be proud of you on the day that Christ returns. You'll be living proof that I didn't go to all this work for nothing.Even if I am executed here and now, I'll rejoice in being an element in the offering of your faith that you make on Christ's altar, a part of your rejoicing. But turnabout's fair play—you must join me in my rejoicing. Whatever you do, don't feel sorry for me." (MSG)

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 38-40


Thursday, January 12, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 12

Ever watched a fly bounce against a window repeatedly? It's trying to escape. Doink off the glass! It sees where it wants to go. Doink off the glass! The outdoors are calling it. Doink off the glass! It keeps trying over and over but can't seem to make any progress. I feel like saying, "Look you stupid fly, you can't go through a closed window! Stop buzzing in my office and wise up!" But of course, flies aren't intelligent like people and it wouldn't work. Dumb flies.

We're much smarter. We make bold declarations each year about what we're going to do different. We're 12 days into the new year...how's it going? Lost that weight? Are you sticking to your diet? Have you read your Bible every day? Have you been a better husband or parent? Did you quit smoking? Did you start eating more vegetables? Are you getting where you're going? Doink. Doink. Doink. Yes, we are much smarter than flies.

The problem that flies have is that they can't see the thing that is interfering with them. Glass. But many Christians don't see the thing that is interfering with them either. Ephesians 6:10-12 tells us, "Be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. Put on all of God’s armor so that you will be able to stand firm against all strategies of the devil. For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places."

There is an unseen enemy in the heavenly realms who is strategizing against us. He is fighting us. He is using his power to trip us up. Doink. Doink. Doink. Ever wondered what's holding us back? Satan doesn't want you to succeed. He doesn't want you to make progress. He doesn't want you accomplish Kingdom things for the Lord. Evil spirits may sound scary...but don't freak out. God gives us armor. He gives us strength. He has given us weapons of war. But none of that matters if we fail to realize that we're in a fight. So if you're stuck and powerless, maybe it's time to "be strong in the Lord" and to to strap on your armor. Maybe it's time to break through that barrier! Superfly!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 35-37


Wednesday, January 11, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 11

What's the difference between worry and concern? It's probably not an earthshaking question to consider. It's really a matter of motivation. A question of what's driving us. We know that worry is a sin, but not a sin that gets preached on or challenged very often in accountability groups. It's a boring sin; ordinary, run of the mill. What programs have been started to people overcome worry? Any "worriers anonymous" groups I'm unaware of? (Don't worry you worriers; there is no such thing!)

Worry is like hedging your bets. We believe God is in control. We believe that He is working on our behalf. We turn matters over to God in prayer, but then worry about them just the same. We take things back into our hands and act as though our fretting is a back up plan. It's normal to be concerned about things, it's probably normal to be worried about things, but we are called not to worry.

Jesus said in Matthew 6:31-34, “So don’t worry about these things, saying, ‘What will we eat? What will we drink? What will we wear?’ These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need. “So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today."

If you are a follower of Christ, you have already hedged your bets. You've brought the most powerful, benevolent, and loving God into your life. Worry about seeking him first in your life, and let him worry about the small stuff. Don't let yourself worry about things that may never happen tomorrow, focus on the blessings that come each day and take the troubles as they come.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 32-34


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 10

Perhaps nothing is so painful in our walk of faith as tension with brothers and sisters in Christ. That strain we feel when relationships are out of balance can be exasperating. We expect a certain degree of tension with people in the world but not those who belong to Christ's church. Right? We are supposed to rise above all that and be different, be better. As I write this the 80's song "I'm only human" is playing at the coffee shop! (a word from the Lord?) We are Christians, Christ followers, but alas...only human after all.

Could I suggest that the thing which makes us different is not the absence of conflict but the resolution of conflict. Everyone will have hiccups and wrinkles in their relationships, but Christians are the ones who are supposed to work them out. Romans 12:18 says, "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." There are several important things to catch here:

-It may not be possible. Sometimes you have to concede that a situation will not be resolved. You may have to agree to disagree or it may even be the end of a relationship. We work, pray, and try for peace...but we won't always have it.
-As far as it depends on you. You can't control what someone else does or says. You can't force them to work for peace. You can't control what they think. You can only do your part. And you must do your part. If they are unwilling, or unable to do their part, you have to turn that over to the Father.
-Live at peace with everyone. Yes even that one guy. That one gal. It doesn't matter who are they are or what they have done; the Father wants peace.

Peace doesn't mean you're obligated to have them over for dinner. Peace doesn't mean you sign up for endless abuse. Peace doesn't mean that you are now hugging friends or a "B.F.F.s". Peace means we no longer have to avoid each other at church or at the grocery store. Peace means we've have had that talk to clear the air, that we've both spoken and both listened. Peace means that we've both humbly offered apologies and both humbly accepted apologies. It means we've made "EVERY EFFORT to keep the unity of the Spirit though the bond of peace." (Eph 4:3)

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 30-31


Monday, January 9, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 9

I was retelling the story of Mary and Martha (Luke 10) yesterday in church. Jesus is at the home of these two faithful sisters conducting some type of teaching session. You can imagine that his participants were delighted to be part of the Rabbi's own small group!

Martha has been fixing dinner for the guests, cooking cleaning, and getting everything ready. Mary is sitting down with the group listening to what Jesus has to say. She's part of the fellowship that day and seems to be disconnected from what Martha is doing in the kitchen. She's isn't concerned with that. But Martha is very concerned. In fact, she's been building a case against Mary while she's stirs the lentil soup. She's pounding the flat bread dough picturing her little sisters face! Her temper is rising, her annoyance is building, and finally she snaps. She walks right into that small group, puts a hand on her hip, and says this: “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” Party foul! Martha just caused a scene by calling her sister out in front of all these guests.

Jesus replies gently, "My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details! There is only one thing worth being concerned about. Mary has discovered it, and it will not be taken away from her." That's it. End of the story. No explanation, no application, just a short and direct answer. But his statement begs the question, "what is the one thing?"

It wasn't the small group. It wasn't Bible study. It don't think it was even salvation. The one thing that Mary found was Jesus. She was spending time with Jesus. She was in a right relationship with Jesus. She let the cooking and the dishes fall to the wayside to get that time with her Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

So are you Martha who missed some quality time with Jesus while letting the "details" bog you down? Or, are you Mary? The one who found the one thing worth being concerned about? And if you aren't sure how to answer, or who to be...remember, He must increase.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 28-29


Sunday, January 8, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 8

I had an opportunity yesterday to use one of my "rights". In America we all "know our rights" and are ready to recite them if someone is infringing upon our freedom. Our rights guarantee(in theory) that we will get what is rightfully ours and that no one will exploit, harm, or take advantage of us without repercussions.

One of the things we don't often think about as Christian is surrendering our rights; not taking full advantage of what is lawfully or rightfully ours. Ready to lay down your rights? Certainly not all of them, and certainly not all the time. But consider the following:
*would you lay down your right to harm someone after they've harmed you?
*would you lay down your right to get paid for something and work for charity?
*would you lay down your right have some punished for wronging you?
*would you lay down your right to defend yourself from a harsh criticism?
*would you lay down your right to have restitution in a financial matter?

I realize each one of these raises a series of questions and the answer would probably be "it depends". Fair enough. Would it surprise you that King Jesus, the Lord of All, willing laid down his rights? Read Philippians 2:6-8

Though he was God,
he did not think of equality with God
as something to cling to.
Instead, he gave up his divine privileges;
he took the humble position of a slave
and was born as a human being.
When he appeared in human form,
he humbled himself in obedience to God
and died a criminal’s death on a cross. (NLT)

If we are to push Christ to the forefront, and be followers of his ways, what rights might we have to lay aside? What privileges might we willingly not use? What injustices might we choose to face? He must increase!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 27


Saturday, January 7, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 7

I'm conducting a memorial service today for a friend of mine who died at 84 years old. He was an ordinary man in many ways. Had a wife, had children, held several jobs, was loved and will be missed by many people. I read the obituary in the paper detailing some of his accomplishments, his interests, and his travels. All those things seemed normal and appropriate but somehow seemed...what's the word I'm looking for? Fleeting. My friend's jobs, vacation, and dare I say "family" mean nothing to him today. He's removed from all such notions and concerns.

What does an obituary really say about the life of a person? Not much. What jumped out at me was a small telling line at the very end of the Newspaper entry: "He was a member of the "____" Church. Now this got my attention. My friend was a Christ follower. He worshiped and served in Christ's church for longer than I've been alive. He gave generously, helped the poor, read the Scripture, and tried his best to live for Jesus. At the end of his life he struggled into church with a degenerating spine, cancer in his body, and unable to see because of his blindness. But he came, and he sang, and he shook hands, and he listened to the Scripture because my friend was a Christian.

I realize that part of our lives in Christ includes living in this world; experiencing it. What we do, who we know, how we live down here does count for something. But at the end of our days, when the sum total of our life's accomplishments are considered what will matter? One simple thing: Did I know Jesus?

As people who are striving for Christ to get the increase (Jn 3:30), what really matters about me? I hope to be a long ways away from my own obituary being written, but I propose to those of you who may write it...I'd like it to say only the thing that matters. I want people to know that one thing about me that points them to Him! Here's what I propose:

Erik True Neilson
(Dec 27, 1974-????)
Follower of Jesus.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 23-26


Friday, January 6, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 6

Had a conversation with a sister in the Lord today and the subject of happiness came up. I was reminded of something that I've realized many times over; God's plan for my life doesn't center around my happiness. Personal happiness isn't the name of my Lord...his name is Jesus. Don't like that? Don't believe me? Let's take this argument to the source.

-Jesus said, "Here on earth you will have many trials and sorrows." (Jn 16:33)
-Jesus said, "So don’t worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring its own worries. Today’s trouble is enough for today." (Matt 6:34)
-Jesus said, "What blessings await you when people hate you and exclude you and mock you and curse you as evil because you follow the Son of Man. When that happens, be happy! Yes, leap for joy! For a great reward awaits you in heaven." (Lk 6:22-23)

Had enough? Some of you are crying "uncle", "mercy"! We would do well to realize that Christ seemed to teach more on suffering that on happiness. He didn't seem too concerned that his disciples were "happy", but that they were prepared for the troubles which lied ahead. Our notions of happiness comes from an emphasis on the god called "self". This god is never satisfied. No amount of money, resources, pleasure, toys, sex, drugs, friends, or bacon (covering all the idols!) can make "self" happy.

If we're seeking to let Christ get the increase, then we...(wait for it) should be focused on his happiness, not ours. Ouch. Ooh. That stings. If he is to increase and we are to decrease, then our focus should be on living lives that make Christ happy! And one day, when all of this nonsense is over, we'll get our happiness in heaven, when we are reunited with Jesus forever!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 19-22


Thursday, January 5, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 5

It's a thankless thing to be a messenger of God sometimes. Mark Driscoll once compared being a preacher to being a mailman. Do people get upset at the mailman for a letter or bill they didn't like? Of course not! But people do get upset at the pastor for simply repeating what God has said. (Even when we say it nice!)

Here's what people don't know:
-we don't enjoy difficult topics any more than they do
-it's probably as hard to say it as it is to hear it
-we aren't trying to be "right", or "win" an argument
-we are just trying to be faithful with what we know of God and his word!

And for all that, they shoot the mailman! But now that the mini-pity party is over...he must increase! It's not about me. It's not about you. It's all about King Jesus. If we take abuse, accusations, torment, disdain, scowls, or even persecution...it doesn't matter. I don't really matter. You don't really matter. Christ matters. What he says matters.

What we say will be right sometimes, what we say will be wrong sometimes, but our aim must be to please him. To elevate him. To preach him...without regard for what it costs us. That's what it means for Christ to get the increase!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 16-18


Wednesday, January 4, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 4

In response to yesterday's blog a friend reminded me of Galatians 2:20, "My old self has been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me." The theme of "old and new self" is touched on several times in Paul's writings and it's so crucial to our understanding of the Christian life. The old ways have been put behind. The new ways have been adopted. There is a difference between who we used to be and who we are...and the difference is Christ! Or at least that's supposed to be the difference.

Living the Christian life is flat out difficult. We are commanded to follow Jesus but we are not forced to. Don't get me wrong, Jesus has the power to make usobey. But force breeds resentment, animosity, and bitterness. Instead, the Spirit of Christ calls me to obedience, repentance and sanctification...but not against my will or habits.

For Jesus to increase I have to decrease...and that's not accidental. I have to willing let go of my old ways and strive to adopt the ways of Christ. I have to want to embrace the changes that Christ desires in me. I have to accept his kind rebukes , his subtle (and blatant!) suggestions, and allow him to transform me into his likeness. And it's not a suggestion! "He MUST become greater and greater, and I MUST become less and less." (John 3:30)

The good news for us in this gut-wrenching, heart-pounding, life-changing process is that we don't go about it alone. The Christ who "lives in us" is present to supply us with the power to make the changes He calls us to.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 12-15


Tuesday, January 3, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 3

As I write day three of this blog I'm realizing what an enormous task it will be to live in a way that puts Jesus in the spotlight. "He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less." (Jn 3:30) How can Jesus become greater and greater without some kind of change? How can there be more of one thing in my life without something else falling by the wayside? How can I possibly hope to elevate Jesus in my life without lowering something else? Someone else. John saw the connection clearly. For Jesus to get the increase, we must become less. For Jesus to take the place of prominence we must step out of the spotlight.

Paul said, "Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the infinite value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord." (Php 3:8) It sounds so extreme to take what I like, what I want, what I do and count it all as worthless! But what if(no guilt intended here) the one thing in our lives that we've treated as worthless has been Jesus? What if we've elevated all that we are and all that we care about to such high importance that we treat Jesus as a worthless person? What if we have treated the one of highest worth as though he's worthless? Then He is becoming less and less, and we are becoming hopelessly lost.

Challenge: Look for one chance to elevate Christ above yourself today. If you get the chance post your experience in the comment section, I'd love to hear about it.

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 8-11


Monday, January 2, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 2

I was laying awake in bed last night thinking about what it means for Christ to be greater and greater in my life. What does it mean for me to become less and less? The application of this principle is endless....but what came to mind was football! (I know I'm ridiculous!)

Today is a day of many college football bowl games. Fans have been waiting eagerly since the end of the regular season for that one last game. Then the football drought(Feb-Aug) begins. Today hundreds of thousands of fans will put on their favorite jerseys, hats, and t-shirts all bearing the emblem of the teams they love. As I sit here I'm wearing my Oregon Ducks gear and waiting impatiently for the game which begins in 6 hours!

It occurred to me that on game day a total stranger could recognize me as a "duck fan" with a casual glance. They'd see what I'm wearing and instantly know about something that is important to me. What if our faith was that way? What if Christ rose to such prominence in our lives that people who had the slightest contact with us knew who we were? What if we pushed down all the stuff about "me" that we want the world to see and recognize, and pushed Christ to front and center? It sounds noble, sounds spiritual, sounds like something a pastor might say. But no part of that is easy. The real question is this: What would we have to give up, what changes would have to be made, in order for people to see Christ when they see us?

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 4-7


Sunday, January 1, 2012

He Must Increase-Day 1

I'm not sure if anyone would read this or not but I pray that your journey with Jesus may be strengthened as I attempt to strengthen mine.

I'm someone that really needs a framework to operate within. I often fail in my attempts at the abstract and undefined. Ironically, the most undefined thing in my life is my relationship with Christ. The further irony of that is that the thing which is most undefined is also the most important; Jesus Christ.

You might say, "simple!" Make a reading schedule, make a plan, set aside time, etc. But here's the thing: I don't want a relationship with Christ which can be defined in human terms. And I suspect that Jesus will not be defined by my thoughts, agendas, schedules or theological understandings.

I've been mulling over the words of John the Baptist in John 3:30. His disciples were somewhat offended that people were flocking to Jesus and abandoning John. His simple response will become, I hope, a framework for this new year. He said, "‎He must become greater and greater, and I must become less and less." (NLT)

I'm not making any radical pledges, or pretentious claims. I have no agenda or specific goal. I just want to explore what it might look like for Jesus to become greater and greater in my life and for own self to become less and less. Join me in considering what our thoughts, actions, and attitudes might be like if Jesus was exalted to the highest place in our lives. He MUST increase!

Read the Bible in One Year Plan: Genesis 1-3